In his honor, the school planted the Peter Rono tree in the courtyard. It is of the species Spathodea nilotica. The Nandi Flame.
Kenyan runners endure a few things Kibor cannot yet know much about. There have been complaints since Keino's time of Kenyan Amateur Athletic Association (KAAA) officials' pocketing appearance money meant for athletes, but recently, with the growth of de facto professional track, the habit has reportedly grown into serious corruption. KAAA general secretary Robert Ouko, who won a gold medal in the 1972 Olympic 1,600-meter relay, has long been accused by runners of letting them race only in meets where their earnings were paid directly to Ouko or to his minions.
Under IAAF rules, athletes' winnings must be kept in trust funds. At first Ouko refused to set up such funds. Some Kenyans chose to have their trust funds supervised by The Athletics Congress of the U.S. rather than by their own body. They were smart. Ngugi reportedly had $185,000 siphoned from his Kenyan trust fund.
At the 1987 World Championships in Rome, the most impressive Kenyan performance was that of Paul Kipkoech in the 10,000. A Nandi soldier from Kapsabet, he destroyed a strong field by surging through the last 5,000 meters in 13:25, which was actually 1.44 seconds faster than the winning time of Morocco's Said Aouita in the 5,000.
Immediately afterward, a promoter offered Kipkoech what one source calls "a small fortune" (it was probably about $15,000) to run at a track meet in Rieti, Italy. Kenyan officials, though, insisted that all team members return to Kenya immediately and, according to an official KAAA report, confiscated athletes' passports, including Kipkoech's. Ouko and Kipkoech reportedly came to blows in the Rome airport.
Ouko finally was suspended, along with the KAAA treasurer, Timothy Musyoki, in late 1988, and things are looking up. But Kipkoech, perhaps the most graceful of all Kenyan runners, is said to have abandoned all serious competition.
The KAAA has its share of tribal infighting, too, which explains why a few deserving athletes have been left off some national teams. The country has a chronic shortage of the most basic equipment. Kenyan runners' desperation for shoes is legendary. Asked what size he wore, one runner told Boit, "Eight...and up."
Yet all these problems must be kept in perspective. By African standards, Kenya is as stable and prosperous as Sweden. Stray from its borders and you enter regions of famine, war and dislocation: Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia.
Kenya's stability has allowed its athletes to shine despite Kenyan mismanagement. The greatest harm to Kenyan running was done by the 1976 and 1980 Olympic boycotts, which removed the ultimate goal from a generation. But now the runners are better than ever. When Ereng stepped from the plane that brought the triumphant Kenyan team back from Seoul, two things happened. His mother washed his hands, symbolically purifying the son as he returned from the decadence of the outside world. And people began to argue over what tribe Ereng was from.
His parents were of the nomadic Turkana. "But he was raised Nandi," says Boit, "in the town of Kitale. He was circumcised Nandi." The Turkana do not circumcise.